Face It: Facebook Needs Women on its Board

By on Apr 30, 2012 |

This past February, Facebook put an end to its will-they-or-won’t-they hypothesizing about its initial public offering. Included in its S-1 filing is a list of risk factors investors should beware of before buying stock in the company. A loss of users to other social networking sites like Google+, a loss of advertisers, user privacy breakdowns, and slowed growth could all adversely affect the value of Facebook stock.

One of the more interesting risk factors, according to the filing, is the man himself – CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg controls the majority of stock — though exactly what percent differs wildly from source to source — and thus full decision-making power, even if the outcome of such decisions hurt stockholders. But the S-1 filing did not mention one particular risk related to Zuckerberg’s decision-making. Facebook’s board of directors includes no women – something the company has come under intense scrutiny for over the past few months.

In an interview with the New Yorker last July, Zuckerberg said he wasn’t concerned about the lack of women on Facebook’s board, saying “I’m going to find people who are helpful, and I don’t particularly care what gender they are…I’m not filling the board with check boxes.”

Contrary to Zuckerberg’s belief, women are more than just “check boxes.” Women compose 58% of Facebook’s usership, leave the most comments, create more status updates (read: content), and spend more money on Facebook-integrated games like Farmville– one of the social networking site’s most profitable areas. In short, Facebook owes much of its success to women and must continue to attract and retain women users if it wishes to remain as wildly popular and profitable as it is now.

This is why Women Online is supporting Face It — a campaign led by women and men who believe that Facebook’s board of white men should include “women of all colors. Because Facebook should go public with a board that reflects its own mission — to make the world more open and connected.” Facebook’s current board of all-white faces reflects an outdated ideal of what a successful and well-rounded board looks like. Certainly, there are some talented and accomplished men represented. But is it so hard to find equally talented and accomplished women or people of color? No, it’s not.

Just ask the public and private organizations that compose 2020 Women on Boards directory. These companies have boards composed of at least 20% women. The vision of 2020 Women on Boards is a world where, by 2020, publicly traded companies will all have at least 20% female board members and that true “Gender diversity will be defined as having more than 20% of board seats filled by women.” These successful and diverse companies prove that including women on their boards has proven a positive change.

Adding women to Facebook’s board isn’t just about equity or being politically correct. Research shows that boards with diversity perform better than homogeneous ones: Return on invested capital, return on sales, and return on equity all increase significantly when boards include three or more women. Facebook’s usership, investors, and workers deserve the improvements that would likely result from having women on its board.

Contrary to Zuckerberg’s belief, including women on a company’s board isn’t just about “filling in check boxes,” it is about including different perspectives, talents, and styles of leadership. Considering the disproportionate number of women Facebook caters to, it is a risk not to include the perspectives of women on its board.

This lack of diversity becomes even more egregious when considering the fact that Facebook’s most public figure, aside from Zuckerberg, is a woman – Sheryl Sandberg. Sandberg has spoken on multiple occasions about gender disparities in technology, going so far as to admit to the Barnard’s graduating class of 2011, “[It’s] sad but true: Men rule the world…[Gender inequality] is this generation’s central moral problem.” Despite her advocacy for greater equality, Sandberg remains the lone woman of central influence at Facebook.

Some have called on Sandberg to step down from her position as COO, saying that Zuckerberg’s disinterest in creating a diverse board reflects distrust in Sandberg or a total denial of her views on gender equality. Others have asked her to focus her attentions inward, to do a better job of influencing Zuckerberg and swaying him toward inclusion of women on the board and the throughout the upper-echelons of Facebook’s leadership.

But why do we feel the need to put this pressure on Sandberg? We live in the 21st century. Zuckerberg is well aware of the fact that his board is totally composed of white men. It is no one’s responsibility to babysit Zuckerberg and remind him of the valuable perspectives of women and people of color. Placing this responsibility on Sandberg is completely nonsensical and further fosters a belief that men are not capable advocating for women’s equality. This attitude removes men’s responsibility, providing outs for them in the future when they are not directly being pressured to be better advocates. Focusing our attention on Sandberg removes the scrutiny that Zuckerberg — and other men in his position — deserve.

Image credit Bianca Bosker